USC, Texas should prevail to set up Rose Bowl battle
Posted: Friday December 2, 2005 11:30AM; Updated: Friday December 2, 2005 7:07PM
This is it: The last weekend of the regular season. We're one step away from the matchup everyone has been waiting to see -- No. 1 USC vs. No. 2 Texas in the Rose Bowl. And while an upset or two would wreak havoc on the bowl picture, I can't see either the Trojans or the Longhorns going down with the stakes this high.
But crazy things tend to happen in college football and lately it seems that no game between top-20 teams is completely predictable.
(11) UCLA at (1) USC
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET (ABC)
Los Angeles Coliseum (92,000)
No one's been able to stop Reggie Bush this season, and it's unlikely UCLA will this weekend.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
USC has an offense for the ages and that's the main reason the Trojans have won 33 consecutive games, including 26 straight at home. With 513 all-purpose yards in a 50-42 win over Fresno State two weeks ago, Reggie Bush established himself as the Heisman front-runner and he should put up similarly spectacular numbers against UCLA. In last year's 29-24 victory over the Bruins, Bush compiled 335 all-purpose yards, and this year's Bruins D is ranked 115th against the run. Current Heisman Trophy holder Matt Leinart should have no trouble shredding a thin Bruins secondary, and wideout Dwayne Jarrett is no match for UCLA's corners. Back LenDale White (shoulder) has been banged up and his availability will be a game-time decision. If he's unable to go, it probably won't play a major role in the outcome.
If the Trojans have a weakness, it's their defense, especially the secondary. But coming off a bye week, USC is well-rested and several players such as linebackers Rey Maualuga and Brian Cushing and cornerback Josh Pinkard have gotten better as the season has progressed. Look for ends Frostee Rucker (11 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks) and Lawrence Jackson (10, 7), and safety Darnell Bing (four interceptions) to have big games.
As good as Leinart has been this season, UCLA QB Drew Olson has been ever better. Olson leads the nation in passing efficiency, having completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,909 yards, 30 touchdowns and just three interceptions. The Bruins have their own version of Reggie Bush in RB Maurice Drew, who has 12 rushing touchdowns, four receiving and three on punt returns. Plus, UCLA has the best tight end the nation in Marcedes Lewis, who has 55 receptions for 711 yards and 10 TDs. The Bruins can move the ball up and down the field and score; they'll push the Trojans' D to its limit.
To put it nicely, UCLA's defense has been pitiful, allowing 435.4 yards and 30.6 points per game. The Bruins' one bright spot on that side of the ball has been linebacker Spencer Havner, a Butkus finalist who leads the team with 84 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss. UCLA will have to be aggressive against USC and try to force turnovers. The Bruins are second in the Pac-10 in turnover margin and need to win this battle in order to have any chance against USC.
Conventional wisdom suggests that if Fresno State can come into the Coliseum and nearly knock off the two-time defending champions, UCLA is certainly capable of pulling off the upset. There's some logic to that, and while I'm sure the Bruins will play the Trojans tough, I just can't see UCLA coming away with the victory. This is, after all, the same team that got blown out at Arizona. The Bruins will put up a good fight, but Trojans have been in too many big games and have too much at stake to lose this one.
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